MP expenses 'should be covered' by access to information laws: Legault
Published Sunday, October 6, 2013 11:06AM EDT
Canada's information watchdog says parliamentarians' expenses "should be covered" by access to information legislation so Canadians can see exactly what lawmakers are spending their tax dollars on.
Suzanne Legault told CTV's Question Period that any decision to amend the Access to Information Act rests with Parliament. However, she said, MPs' expenses should be covered by the legislation, "certainly for the administration of Parliament.
"I think there should be protection for Parliamentary privilege, and I think that can be provided for with appropriate exemptions under the Act," Legault told Question Period. "But yes, definitely, I think the public has the right to know how their dollars are being spent by our Parliamentarians."
Last week, the annual House of Commons Members Expenditures Report revealed that MPs spent more than $123 million in office, travel, hospitality and other expenses in the last fiscal year.
For the year ending March 31, 2013, MPs spent:
- $67 million in employees' salaries and service contracts
- $25 million in travel expenses
- $15 million in office expenses
- $6 million in printing expenses
- $5 million in advertising costs
- $1.6 million in hospitality and events
While the report breaks down MP's expenditures in each of the six categories, only the total amount is listed. What that money was spent on remains secret.
The issue of appropriate spending among Canadian lawmakers has been making headlines in recent years, from former cabinet minister Bev Oda's $16 glass of orange juice claimed on a trip to London to questionable living and travel expenses claimed by a handful of senators.
Legault said she believes that detailed expense reports would help build trust among voters in their elected officials. As well, it would "create discipline" among Parliamentarians' expenses, she said.
"We're in 2013 and everybody's suffered from the economic difficulties, not only here but around the world, and people are really scrutinizing how taxpayers' dollars are being spent," Legault said. "That's one area where we should expect leadership from our Parliamentarians, so I'm looking forward to see what the government is going to do in that respect."
Meanwhile, Legault is at loggerheads with various government documents over their response to Access to Information requests.
As it stands, the Act stipulates that a department must respond to any request within 30 days and indicate whether the requested documents will be forthcoming or if they will seek an extension.
"What they were doing is they were not acknowledging that they were receiving requests, so from the requester's perspective they were getting no response at all," Legault said.
She added that the Act stipulates that departments can request an extension for "a reasonable period of time," but that directive is open to interpretation. And there isn't any sort of mechanism in the Act for her to enforce deadlines or impose penalties.
Legault has been forced to take departments to court, including the Department of National Defence, which had sought a 1,110-day extension under the Act.
The department turned over the documents a few weeks before her challenge of the extension was to be heard in Federal Court. That hearing will go ahead anyway on Oct. 8, she said.
In a speech to bureaucrats during Right to Know Week, a worldwide government transparency event that was closed to the public and the media, Legault said complaints to her office were up 35 per cent in the first five months of the 2013-2014 fiscal year compared to last year. In her speech, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, Legault also said complaints about departments responding with "no records exist" were up 34 per cent.
Later this fall, Legault is expected to table a report on ways to reform the Act.